You may have heard this term bandied around before but never actually understood what your coach was talking about...So what exactly is a 'deload'?
One definition of a deload is: a purposeful reduction in training volume & intensity for the purposes of recovery, injury prevention, and improved performance.
However, over the years, what constitutes as a deload had become broader and there is now no longer just one way to deload.
The idea of deloading originates from the law of super compensation which is illustrated briefly below:
As explained by Joran Syatt on Schwarzenegger.com there are roughly three phases to training:
Phase 1: Application of Stress
The applied stress is comprised of the workout in question and everything therein. For example, when talking about the applied stress, you can be referring to an individual repetition, an entire set, or even the workout as a whole. The stress (workout) causes fatigue, muscular damage, etc which necessitates the second phase.
Phase 2: Recovery
Be it active rest between sets, an entire day of rest between workouts, or a whole week geared towards recovery, phase 2 allows the body to recover and regenerate back to baseline.
Phase 3: Supercompensation
The 3rd phase, sometimes referred to as the rebound phase, is when the body effectively rebounds from a fatigued state to a new, higher level of performance. While the traditional form of deloading used to call for a complete week of rest or a reduction in the volume and intensity of your lifts (that is, reducing the amount of sets, reps and weight used) there are now several different ways that you can take a 'rest' from your current training, recover slightly but still train in the gym.
For example, a current popular way to deload is to keep your reps and sets the same but reduce the weight used. So your deload turns into a much lighter, more technical week and allows you to continue to train and work on any technical weaknesses you might have before upping the weight again.
Another form of deloading is to swap your lifts. If for example, you are finding one of your lifts suffering, taking a break from it and focusing on accessory lifts or even a different lift may help you in the longer term.
Deloads are necessary. Full stop. But they cannot just be taken when you feel like it. They should be pre-planned into your program and their frequency and type will be based on the type of training you are doing. Deloads are usually spread out at about 6 - 8 week points in a program, scheduled following a big competition or if joints are beginning to suffer.
Deloads make sense. Not just for physical recovery but mentally too. When have you ever been able to continue a training block for a period longer than 2 - 3 months without feeling some form of mental fatigue or boredom. In addition, for those lifting extremely heavy weights, the amount of stress that can be placed on the central nervous system means that a deload is often required just to keep you sane!
A lot of CrossFitters argue that they don't need to deload. Sure, if you're attending CrossFit once a day, taking adequate rest days and not trying to 'win every workout'...then you may not need to deload. However, if you are someone who is attempting to build up to compete, deloads could have a great impact. Recovery is where our improvements come from, hence a deload allows your body to adequately recover before taking advantage of the supercompensation phase. Deloading is an excellent strategy to use in line with peaking for competition.
However, sometimes life gets stressful to the point where a deload can also help the everyday athlete rediscover their passion for fitness. If you've ever felt demotivated, unable to will yourself to come to the gym or just losing interest in exercise...it might be time for a deload. As always, talk to our coaches if you are feeling this way!
For those of us for whom training is a big chunk of our life, it can often feel like a punishment when we are told to deload. The feeling of not training like normal can feel depressing, boring, and you usually end up feeling pretty physically and emotionally crappy for the first part of it. Sometimes it might feel like you've lost all motivation to continue and you'll question why you're doing what you're doing.
Following that however, your body begins to respond positively and by about the 6th or 7th day you'll be ready and raring to get back into a new training block.
Whether you are prepping for an event, finding yourself feeling weak, unmotivated or just unable to perform like you know you can...consider scheduling in a deload to your program. If you need help with this, feel free to ask your coach, or alternatively check out the links below.
For more information on deloading you can check out some information here: